The deciduous trees stand, bare and apparently lifeless through the winter months. The popular take on this, is that they are sleeping. It is a perspective which depends on paying no attention or thought to what the trees are really doing. Those bare branches are a misleading focus.
Often when I sit down to draw or paint, I don’t have a preconceived plan. I just want to start putting something down on the paper; maybe a few lines with a pencil, maybe just wild strokes of color.
This time, though I had something specific in mind. In fact, I’ve had it in mind for a while now. I’ve even made a few attempts in recent weeks, but each time there has been a disconnect between my head and my hand. I want to portray the Goddess in winter, but instead I keep filling my paper with the hot and bright colors of summer.
Living at the far western region of the Lake Superior basin, the season of cold comes early and stays late, like an unwelcome guest. I make that analogy with a hint of shame. I am a pagan priestess. I am supposed to have a relationship with Gaia in all of Her seasons. I should embrace each turning of the wheel for the aspects ushered in, but winter vexes me.
The 31st of October is traditionally Samhain, and also All Hallows Eve. It has a long tradition as a festival, as do Beltain, Imbolc and Lugnasadh, all popular with modern Pagans. However, Pagans in the Southern hemisphere have long since decided that it makes no sense to celebrate Samhain at the start of what, for them, is the spring. Southen calendars swap the festivals around, putting seasonal relevance before an ancestral connection with dates.
For me, Autumn is far less about the dying away, and far more about the stocking up. Granted, the leaves beyond my window are turning, shades of yellow and brown creeping in amongst the greens. It’s late this year, but then, so was the spring.
There is no place in a regular wheel of the year where it makes sense to talk about going back, returning, backtracking or heading the wrong way. The cycle of the year does of course bring us round the same seasons, reliably, but there is always a sense of moving forward. Turning, not returning. Time as we experience it only flows one way. However, there are many ways in which we can go back.
We can make geographical returns to places that were important to us, and practical returns to ways of being that we have parted from for a while. Paganism as a whole can be seen as an attempt to go back to something that was lost, and like all lost things, raises issue around how much can be reclaimed. Is anything gone forever? Is it possible to return? As the saying goes, we cannot step into the same river twice. Whatever we go back to is not the same as before. It will have changed over time, too, we will have changed.
I hope that you are enjoying a wonderful Lughnasadh. I hope that you are harvesting all that you can manage and just enough to share.
Here in the mystical MidAtlantic, there are lots of jokes about sneaking onto our neighbors' porches to leave bags of zucchini; we can all get overwhelmed this time of year by what our gardens produce. I want to remind everyone in that (enviable) situation that most food closets and soup kitchens will gladly take extra produce -- they're masters at turning out soups and casseroles filled with your extra produce. It's not so much a sacrifice as a way of sharing, a way of continuing and reviving the gift culture that may, one day, supplement, if not replace, capitalism.
As we've danced into Lughnasadh, I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice and its role in our magical/political lives. Some say that this Sabbat springs from funeral games declared to honor Lugh's mother Tailtiu, a strong woman who died clearing forested land for cultivation by her people. I want to honor both the sacrifice of the woman who cleared the land and the sacrifice of the forest. I want to spend time today thinking of those who gave their lives to make our lives better, even when their sacrifices had unintended consequences.
In your standard Pagan wheel of the year arrangement, harvest happens in the autumn. We tend to celebrate it at the autumn equinox, when many regular Pagan teachings encourage you to reflect on wider ideas of harvest in your own life. However, if you grow soft fruit or salad vegetables, the odds are that you’ve been harvesting since some time in June.
The exact timing of harvests varies according to the weather. There needs to have been enough rain to fatten things up, and enough sun to bring about the necessary chemical changes. The shift of colour in berries and grains that shows ripening, is a chemical shift of sugars, hence the radical difference in taste between an apple in early summer and late autumn. Some fruits and roots do not ripen until frosts have acted on them to make changes in the chemistry.
When I was coming up in these spiritual systems, it was all about connecting with some Divines, usually a cobbled together "pantheon" of cultures and attributes that we liked. We set that up within the elegant framework of the Wheel of the Year. I love the Wheel because it is a sweet crucible for connecting, as well as celebrating and honoring. Simple and very user-friendly. There are two Solstices and two Equinoxes (and don't bother to correct me--I know those aren't the accurate plurals)--placeholders that mark the visible change in seasons in those places that still have four of those. They actually happen--they are not based on lore or myth. You can look them up--they happen for everyone at the same time.
I have lived in upstate New York my entire life. For the most part, I love it here. I love the changing seasons and the beauty of the rolling hills. What I don’t love so much is winter—probably not a good thing in an area where the first snow often falls at Halloween, and it isn’t unheard of for it to snow in the middle of April. Essentially, of the twelve months in a year, five of them are winter. That’s a long freaking time if you don’t like that particular season.
In the little corner of the world where I exist, on the small 13 acre plot I call home, it is quiet. The hurly-burly of 'the shopping season' is far away from us, and that is something for which I'm very thankful. By-the-by, 'hurly-burly' is one of my favorite words picked up from reading Homer. At our place, this is not a time of holiday shopping, frenzied consumerism disguised as 'needing to stretch my money further'. Our families know that if we give any gifts at all that they were made by our hand. No, this is a time for something much different..
It's the morning of October 31st, and I've had several people text me this morning wishing me a happy (or merry) Samhain. And I really appreciate the thought. I love hearing from friends and fans. But while I am really looking forward to doing ritual tonight, and later running off in costume to Frenchmen Street, I have one thought for my well wishers: Samhain is actually tomorrow.
What Kenny Klein? What are you talking about? You're nuts. I'm sorry I texted you and wished you happy Samhain, you jerk...